Why Your Daily Calorie Need Decreases With Age

Senior Couple Having Breakfast

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It's a fact of life that as you age, your body needs fewer calories. It's kind of a bummer, but there are ways to deal with it and still enjoy some of your favorite foods.

First, why does this happen?

It's all about your metabolism, which is your body's ability to break down nutrients and convert them into energy or store them as fat when you take in more energy than you burn. A lot of your metabolism has to do with muscle mass. Since muscle cells are busy moving your body around and doing things, they require energy, whereas fat cells basically just sit there doing nothing except storing fat.

In general, a man has more muscle than a woman of the same weight so he will have a higher metabolism. And, of course, age makes a significant difference too.

When you're a teenager or in your 20s, your metabolism is relatively high. But, around age 30, you start to lose a little bit of muscle and put on a bit more fat. You may not notice it much at first, but as you get older your muscle mass will decrease even more, and your metabolism will slow down because of it.

A pound or two a year may not seem like much at first, but over the years, the weight can add up, and you can run the risk of becoming overweight or obese.

The loss of muscle reduces the number of calories you need to maintain your current weight, and if you continue to eat the same amount of calories every day without changing your level of physical activity, you'll gradually gain fat.

Prevent Weight Gain as You Age

You can't turn back the clock and become young again, but gaining unwanted weight doesn't need to be inevitable if you put forth the effort. Here's what you can do about it:

Stay Active (or Get Active)

Increased physical activity can help you maintain your weight. In general, adults should be getting 30 minutes of exercise per day with various workouts from muscle, stretching, and cardio, while also trying to reach 10,000 steps per day.

Resistance exercises like weight lifting can increase your muscle mass, which may increase your metabolism and number of calories burned. It also increases your strength and overall fitness. Aerobic activities such as running or walking burn calories while you're moving. They're also good for your heart health.

Count Your Calories

Calculate your daily calorie need with the Mifflin St. Jeor formula. You may also want to invest in a kitchen scale until you become comfortable with estimating the serving sizes of the foods you eat.

Watch What You Eat

Although you may need fewer calories, you still need to get your daily vitamin and mineral needs met. Choose nutrient-dense foods such as fruits and green and colorful vegetables that are low in calories and rich in vitamins and minerals. Lean protein sources such as fish and seafood are low in calories and contain omega-3 fatty acids that many diets are lacking. Make sure you get plenty of high fiber foods (non-starchy vegetables, whole fruits, legumes, and 100% whole-grain products).

Watch Your Alcohol Intake

Alcohol has more calories per ounce than carbohydrates or proteins but has no other nutritional value. Plus it's often combined with sweetened mixers that add even more calories.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. NIH News in Health. Minding your metabolism.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Why it really is harder for women to lose weight and what to do!

  3. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical activity guidelines for Americans.

Additional Reading

By Shereen Lehman, MS
Shereen Lehman, MS, is a former writer for Verywell Fit and Reuters Health. She's a healthcare journalist who writes about healthy eating and offers evidence-based advice for regular people.